New technologies to make agriculture more sustainable

The purpose of the test bed is to create an arena for cooperation on new agricultural technology.

iHubs Sweden Bioeconomic New technologies to make agriculture more sustainable

Image above: Jonas Engström, project leader, RISE test bed. Photo: David Lagerlöf.

Digitized agriculture is stepping up as a strength area in Sweden. Last week, iHubs Sweden reported on Agtech 2030, a new Vinnväxt initiative, which receives ten years of funding from Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova, to develop digitized agriculture.

Now we have more news the future of farming. Vinnova contributes SEK 8 million for three years to a test bed for digitized agriculture at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Campus Ultuna in Uppsala. The test beds will be run by RISE research institute with about 20 partners.

Sustainable and profitable food production

The objectives for the testbed are sustainable and profitable food production, reduced environmental impact, as well as increased capacity for new innovative services and products. Several of the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development are addressed through the testbed, including Zero Hunger, Climate action, as well as Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Responsible Consumption and Production.

Agriculture is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden after industry and domestic transport. Parts of these emissions can be reduced through support for better decisions and better control of operations. By electrifying and automating agricultural machinery, fossil-based emissions can be greatly reduced, and the machines can be driven by farm-produced energy. At the same time, sensors and systems for data analysis can increase agriculture’s sustainability and profitability through, for example, smarter use of water and pesticides.

Create an arena for cooperation

“The purpose of the test bed is to create an arena for cooperation on new agricultural technology. In the testbed we will lay the base for developing a decision support system for agriculture and testing how new machine systems based on autonomous operations and electric propulsion can be used in agriculture. We start by collecting quality-assured data for plant cultivation, which can then be used to build computer-based decision support for this,” says Jonas Engström, project leader for the test bed.

Expertise from a variety of disciplines within RISE is linked to the test bed, in addition to all the skills represented by other partners. Researchers from both RISE and SLU in agriculture, precision farming, Internet of Things, autonomous machines, electrification, artificial intelligence and electronics and sensors are linked to the test bed.

Value of gathering expertise

“The test beds for digitalized agriculture clearly show the value of gathering expertise from different disciplines and industries as we have done in RISE. The testbed provides an opportunity for both increased competitiveness for agriculture and for Swedish industry companies to establish themselves in the agricultural industry and develop new products and services that can be tomorrow’s Swedish exports”, says RISE CEO Pia Sandvik.

The test bed for digitalized agriculture has been made possible through support from Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova and more than 20 partners, including SLU, Lantmännen, Dataväxt, Federation of Swedish farmers, SMHI, Ericsson, Telia, Volvo Penta, Yara and the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

New ways to optimize agricultural results

“With Ericsson as a close partner and the expertise that other stakeholders in the testbed, closely related to the agricultural sector, can contribute, we can find new ways to optimize agricultural results and streamline the daily life of the individual farmer,” says Björn Hansen, Head of IoT, Division X Telia Company.

“Ericsson estimates around 3.5 billion cellular IoT connections by 2023 [Ericsson Mobility Report June 2018]. In agriculture, the use of sensors to guide farming is a noteworthy trend. Connectivity will contribute to higher yields in farming as well as a more sustainable world. For example, in Malaysia a sensor-equipped system led to mangrove sampling survival improvements of up to 50%. I am personally excited to follow the realized effects in the Uppsala testbed – energy costs drop, water use drop, greenhouse gases drop and yield improvement,” says Margareta Borg, Head of Strategy and Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility, Market Area Europe & Latin America, Ericsson.

Facts about the testbed for digitalized agriculture

The testbed consists initially of four fields of each one hectare with different crops where data about the crop is collected. The field is located on SLU Campus Ultuna and is owned by SLU. In connection with the fields, there are areas for testing of autonomous machines, as well as RISE premises with offices, prototype workshop and warehouses.

Coordinator and project manager: RISE.
Partners in the test bed: SLU, Ericsson, Telia, Volvo Penta, SMHI, Swedish Board of Agriculture, Federation of Swedish farmers, Uppsala Municipality, Uppsala Region, Lantmännen, Dataväxt, Yara, Bayer, LRF Consultant, Intellolabs, Deep Forestry, Solvi, Ecoloop.
The first cultivation season is 2019, when as a minimum BAT (best available technology) available on the market will be used.
During the three-year project, the ambitions will be gradually increased in terms of data collection, data analysis and, in particular, autonomous and electric machines.
The test bed as an arena for new technology will be built on projects that focus on specific areas. Already now, a project to build an open image database for plants with AI and machine learning is approved, as well as a project for developing Head-Up Display for machines. Other projects are waiting for evaluation.

Concrete parts in the testbed:

  • Sensors that measure access to water, precipitation, temperature, air and leaf moisture, nutrient status and light reflection.
  • Drones with different types of sensors that can provide measurement values for the diagnosis and forecast of the crop.
  • Connection of machines that operate on the fields, such as measurements of energy use and performance, control and logging of various actions such as seed, plant protection and nutrition.
  • Communication solutions such as mobile connection via 4G, NB-IoT (narrowband Internet of things, technology for low-energy sensors) and in later 5G, as well as other radio technologies.
  • Connected systems such as open data from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, weather data from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute and financial information from LRF Konsult.
  • Data management in the form of a cloud service that can handle and analyze data and then present the results of the analyzes as a base for decision making.
  • New ways of presenting data, for example, through Augmented Reality (AR) for feedback to the farmer and machine operators.
  • Autonomous machines that receive control data through the testbed’s data infrastructure to perform driverless operations on the fields. In the long term, smart grid solutions to manage energy supply for power-driven machines.
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